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Joseph Strauss


Joseph B. Strauss led the way as Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge. He was assisted by a talented team of professionals that created the final design of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The contribution of each, as individuals and as a team, led to the development of one of the premier suspension spans of our time. 

Strauss was the leading force behind seeing the Golden Gate Bridge become a reality, hands down. He was the visionary, promoter, team builder, coordinator, and manager of the preliminary and final designs for the span. He also led the construction of the Bridge, working with a team of engineers, architects, geologists, other professionals, and the many dedicated contractors and workers involved in the project. Strauss surrounded himself with the right people of the 1930s bridge building era, the experts in each field.

Most notably was the participation by the following individuals, all of whom, with the exception of Charles A. Ellis, who served as Design Engineer under Strauss from 1922 to 1931, are named on a dedication plaque that remains mounted on the San Francisco tower of the Bridge to this day:

  • Clifford E. Paine, Strauss Engineering Corporation Vice President, served as Principal Assistant Engineer during final design and construction
  • Russell G. Cone was Resident Engineer during construction
  • Charles Clarahan, Jr. and Dwight N. Wetherell served as Assistant Engineers
  • O.H. Ammann, Prof. Charles Derleth, Jr., and Leon S. Moisseiff served on the Advisory Board of Engineers
  • Sydney W. Taylor, Jr. was Consulting Traffic Engineer
  • Irving F. Morrow, Morrow and Morrow Architects, was Consulting Architect
  • Andrew C. Lawson and Allan E. Sedgwick were Consulting Geologists

Although Strauss never officially recognized Ellis for his leadership efforts in the design of the Bridge, the record clearly demonstrates that he deserves significant credit for the suspension bridge design, which we see and cherish today.

Joseph Strauss died on May 16, 1938, at the age of 68. He was posthumously honored in 1941 when his widow Annette Strauss unveiled a seven-foot statue of his likeness, mounted on an art deco-styled concrete pedestal (photo from San Francisco Library Collection AAA-9594). This grand memorial was moved in 2012 to what is today the Golden Gate Bridge Southeast Visitor area.

Strauss Poems

The Mighty Task is Done

Written upon completion of the building of the Bridge, May 1937

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all--the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empire's gates;
'To south, a happy playground waits,
in Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet ne'er its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life's restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm, 
For Fate had meant it so.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Written upon completion of the Bridge, 1937

I am the thing that men denied,
The right to be, the urge to live;
And I am that which men defied,
Yet I ask naught for what I give.

My arms are flung across the deep,
Into the clouds my towers soar,
And where the waters never sleep,
I guard the California shore.

Above the fogs of scorn and doubt,
Triumphant gleams my web of steel;
Still shall I ride the wild storms out,
And still the thrill of conquest feel.

The passing world may never know
The epic of my grim travail;
It matters not, nor friend or foe –
My place to serve and none to fail.

My being cradled in despair,
Now grown so wondrous fair and strong,
And glorified beyond compare,
Rebukes the error and the wrong.

Vast shafts of steel, wave-battered pier,
And all the splendor meant to be;
Wind-swept and free, these, year on year,
Shall chant my hymm of Victory!

A Strauss Timeline

1870 – January 9, born Joseph Baermann Strauss in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1892 – Graduated from University of Cincinnati, where he was class president and “class poet.”

1902 – Started own firm, Strauss Bascule Bridge Company of Chicago (later the Strauss Engineering Corporation).

1902 – Built first bascule rail bridge over Cuyahoga River near Lake Erie; Strauss’ first significant bridge revolutionized moveable bridges.

1904 – Patented the Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge.

1915 – Designed “aeroscope” ride (glass-enclosed platform attached a crane, which lifted people 150 feet into the air) for 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

1915 – Completed double-leaf Strauss bascule bridge over Neva River in Petrograd, Russia.

1916 – Completed Fourth Street Bridge in San Francisco; presently the oldest working bascule bridge in California.

1917 – Asked by San Francisco City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy to study feasibility of building a bridge over the Golden Gate.

1921 – June 28, submitted preliminary sketches of Golden Gate Bridge—a hybrid cantilever-suspension design—to O’Shaughnessy.

1921 – Hired civil engineer Charles Ellis to head his staff.

1922 – Initial design plans revealed to the public, derided as “ugly” by the press.

1925 – Consulting engineer Leon Moisseiff expressed concern about hybrid design, suggesting a suspension span concept that would eventually win out by 1929.

1928 – December 4, Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District incorporated.

1929 – August 15, appointed Chief Engineer; Strauss later named his vice president Charles Ellis as design engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge.

1930 – Accepted offer from Irving Morrow to prepare architectural study of Bridge plaza; Morrow later played key role in shaping Bridge’s aesthetic qualities (such as its distinctive color).

1930 – Awarded honorary Doctor of Science degree from University of Cincinnati.

1930 – Completed Columbia River Bridge at Longview, Washington.

1930 – August 27, submitted final plans for Bridge to District board.

1931 – Dismissed Ellis placing Clifford E. Paine in charge of supervising the final design and construction of the Bridge.

1932 – Composed the poem “The Redwoods,” later published as a song.

1933 – January 5, Construction begins on Golden Gate Bridge.

1933 – February 26, attended official ground-breaking ceremony on Crissy Field.

1933 – Opened Third Street Bridge (“Lefty O’Doul Bridge”), near present-day AT&T Park in San Francisco.

1937 – Proposed rapid transit system for Los Angeles.

1937 – April 28, watched the ceremonial last gold rivet driven into the Bridge, marking the completion of the structure.

1937 – May 28, attended official opening of Bridge to automobile traffic, handing over the Bridge to District President William Filmer.

1938 – May 16, died of coronary thrombosis in Los Angeles; entombed in the Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Calif.

Strauss Quotations

“A great city with water barriers and no bridges is like a skyscraper with no elevators. Bridges are a monument to progress.” –in a 1930 radio address

“Our world of today revolves around things which at one time couldn’t be done because they were supposedly beyond the limits of human endeavor….don’t be afraid to dream.”

“Building a bridge is a war with the forces of Nature.”

“It took two decades and two hundred million words to convince people the bridge was feasible.”

“Bridge, ha! That’s no bridge, that’s a trestle.” –reacting to the opening of the Bay Bridge, completed six months before the Golden Gate Bridge

“No span of steel will tolerate…neglect. But if service by generations who use it and spared manmade hazards, such as war, it should have life without end.”

“When you build a bridge, you build something for all time.”

“It would be two and a half times larger than any similar bridge in the world. The towers would be ten feet higher than the Eiffel Tower. There is no better place for the eighth wonder of the world than Northern California.” –in a speech, March 1933

“San Francisco is one of the few cities that has all the energy, all the wealth, all the courage and all the ability that is needed to undertake and carry this project to success.” –on May 16, 1924

“Forever.” –Strauss’ reply when asked how long the Bridge will last, 1932

“Every span is something that ‘can’t be done’ until the men in steel helmets have driven in their last rivet.”

“Here is your bridge, Mr. O’Shaugnessy.”

“This bridge needs neither praise nor eulogy nor encomium. It speaks for itself.” –at the opening ceremony on May 28, 1937

Did You Know?

  • Born to a father who was a Bavarian painter and a mother who was musician, Strauss was an accomplished poet—his “The Redwoods” was published as a song in 1937.
  • Strauss grew up in a home that looked out on the 1,057-foot-long Covington-Cincinnati bridge (today called the John A. Roebling Bridge). When it was opened in December 1866—three years and a month before Strauss was born—the “Biggest Bridge in the World” set the record for longest suspension span.
  • A slight young man at just over five feet tall, Strauss was hospitalized after an ill-advised attempt to play for the university football team; from his hospital window, as the legend goes, he gazed at the Cincinnati bridge and made plans for greatness through engineering.
  • Strauss’ undergraduate thesis, presented in 1892, proposed a bridge across the Bering Strait, connecting North America and Asia.
  • Strauss is credited with building more than 400 bridges in the United States, Canada, Panama, Japan, Egypt, China, and all over globe.
  • Strauss was a prolific inventor, his fertile imagination creating a glass-washing machine for soda fountains, a “tubeless” tire, a proto-monorail “airtram,” a concrete railroad car, a bascule door for aircraft hangers, an anti-aircraft searchlight used in World War I, and a safety net to prevent automobiles from crossing in front of approaching trains.
  • Strauss’ bridge across the Neva, at the Winter Palace of the Russian Czar, would be stormed by peasants in the Revolution of 1917.
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